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Archiv 1990
Printed in July, 1990
The other democracy
The shock of the press: Jailing the journalists?

Josef Schrabal


In September 1988 Vaclav Havel sent greetings for the 70th Anniversary of creation of Czechoslovakia with the following words added: "Naturally the First Republic will never return and cannot return. If sometimes in the future Czechoslovakia will adopt the democracy again, surely it will be democracy different in that it will be responsive to our times."

I can remember the words of Professor Vratislav Busek who was teaching us - and he also wrote so into the Prague's daily paper Svobodne slovo [the Free Word] -, that democracy without freedom is false, untrue and that the foundation of democracy is freedom of expression namely in the free press.

When people asked me after my first monthly visit of Prague, how is it there after the "velvet revolution", I am answering "velvetish". I further explain that there is not communism in the Czechoslovakia any more but that the communists are still running the country. That it will probably take them more than ten years to realize this. They believe, since there is not a censor sitting in the editorial room of newspapers, that they have a free press.

Also Bill Kovach of Harvard University writes in the New York Times: "Before he was elected President, Thomas Jefferson figured he would rather do without government than newspapers. While serving in the office, he decided readers of irresponsible newspapers were a danger to democracy."

Vaclav Havel
The Washington Post
Sunday, Jul. 15. 1990

The newly elected president of the CSFR Vaclav Havel may be the latest to undergo this metamorphosis. After being jailed for literary works and play writing, he became the voice of the "velvet revolution" which terminated the communist era in Czechoslovakia. His essay on the power of the powerless is an eloquent testimony of the right to speak the simple truth and nothing but the truth - inheritance after Thomas G. Masaryk. But the very same Vaclav Havel, shortly after his victorious election, at the International Conference of Journalists was speaking about the "responsibility" of the press and how important it is for the free press to keep the "state secrets" secret. He condemned that press which is trying to assume a role of a detective.

A day later, 35 journalist from the Eastern Europe and from the USA were listening to the presidential spokesman Michael Zantovsky how the newly elected government was considering to preserve the secrets of the state even for the price of jailing those journalist willing to publish it. Then I realized how deep scar left those forty years of the communist dictatorship deeply imbedded not only into an ordinary citizen but also into the dissidents such as Havel and the others from the Civil Forum.

Western press and its newsreporting are the best protection of democracy. The right to know what the government is doing is in America protected by law (the Freedom of Information Act). The new government in Prague is saying that people are not interested in the news; that the people don't want to have to make decidecisions; that they see the freedom of the press in expressing an opinion and that its duty is to tell people what to think. But that that opinion must agree with the Prague's Castle - that is the sign of responsible press.

What are the "state secrets"?

That the Czechoslovak Ambassador to the US was a fanatic communist? That the present Minister of Foreign Affairs was during years 1958 - 1969 not only a communist but also a foreign correspondent from Washington? That time, what was he broadcasting from Washington, D.C., about the U.S.A. and about our capitalistic world? Or, that a KBG spy is now consultant in Prague? When the new minister of interior started to release the lists of StB agents (and namely of the communist informers), the Congress stopped him instantly because that is "the State secret".

These acts of the Prague's Castle against "irresponsible" press are related to the newspapers in the Czechoslovakia demanding independence. When, on June 18th, the leadership of the Social Party requested keys to the Melantrich, the entire editorial staff of the Svobodne slovo went on a strike causing resignation of the entire Central Committee. Similarly also Mr. Jaroslav Weis, the Editor of the "Lidova demokracie" [People's democracy] declared that his paper wants total independence.

The final question remains: does this mean that all the papers will adopt propaganda of the Prague's castle or be put in a prison? Is this "the other democracy" described only two years ago by Vaclav Havel - the dissident?

Original in Czech


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